With its neat lawns, white mansions and wide verandas overlooking the Congo River, Avenue de Nations Unies preserves a little of the colonial era in Kinshasa. While most residents of this dilapidated African metropolis picked their way through flooded lanes and open sewers yesterday to reach polling stations, the elite residents of the avenue made their way down a road lined with flowering trees and armed guards.
By mid-morning, Mobutu Nzanga had left his palatial home in the exclusive district in a black motorcade with tinted windows. The eldest son of the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was on his way to vote for himself for president.
He wasn't seriously expected to challenge the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, the son of the man who toppled his father. But his presence on the ballot was a reminder that the starkest divisions in the land his father ruled for 32 years are not so much political as between the haves and the have-nots. A big man in an ample business suit, Mobutu Nzanga was surrounded by a gang of youths who chanted "son of the father" and screamed at other voters to get out of the way. After voting, Mobutu Nzanga declared that Africa's legendary kleptocrat would have been "proud" of the democratic process. "Under my father there was peace for 32 years and after he went, five million of my countrymen died."
(His father, the "old leopard", had toyed with democracy but in the end held a sham vote instead.) "Some people want to bring back the old days of one-party rule," said Mobutu Nzanga, and while he did not agree, he was "proud to have a name that still resonates".
Fourteen years after "Mobutism" collapsed under the weight of its own failings and a foreign-backed invasion led by Laurent Kabila, the Democratic Republic of Congo is little different from the Zaire of old.
In the slums of Ndjili, people were having a different election experience. At one polling station voters waited for three hours as despairing officials told them there were no booths and no ink to mark their fingers so they could not vote.
At least nine people died in election-related violence. So chaotic was the process that it was announced last night that voting would continue into a second day.